In the past year, African nations, such as Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, have been investing billions of public and private dollars in green technologies, like renewable energy and organic agriculture. Economist Steven Stone of the United Nations Environment Program said that this is happening both despite—and because of—the nations' relative poverty.
Steven Stone: They're saying, if I do have limited ability to purchase oil, what can I do to increase my self-sufficiency? What kind of technologies will permit me to leapfrog from an older, dirtier technology?
For example, he said, a geothermal plant is currently in the works in Kenya. He also talked about Uganda, whose per capita income is only about $1,000 dollars a year. He said Uganda first began to invest in organic farming because its people couldn't afford fertilizer.
Organic agriculture in Uganda has grown to about 23 million dollars a year now, from a base of 3 million dollars in 2003. And it's now gotten to the point where it's producing significant revenue for small farmers in Africa.
Stone said that although this "green" movement is by no means happening all over Africa, policies that are economically successful can set benchmarks for the whole continent.
Many people, when they think of Africa, they think of a landscape of many things going wrong, of many crises. I think the story of the green economy transition in Africa is one of hope and optimism. When we see it in Africa, that means it can be done anywhere in the world.
He added that Africans are dealing with a very different set of economic circumstances than people in the west, but that the continent's poverty, which at first glance appears as a weakness, might actually turn out to be an advantage for the continent.
African countries have urgent development priorities. But at the same time, they're inspired in the way they're going about it. Many of the leaders are looking for ways to avoid liquidation of their natural resource base, which was a pattern that was used typically in Europe in the United States to promote economic growth. We chewed down our forests, our water supplies in order to promote our economic development. A lot of African countries are seeing that and saying, "No, I can manage my natural assets, and get better returns for my population and more income for my population by managing them smartly."
Dr. Stone indicated that across the continent in Africa investments in clean energy in 2009 have risen again for the second straight year, and that includes $2 billion dollars worth of investment from the private sector, that is, from private international investors.
The private sector responds to the signals that governments give.
Dr. Stone said that investment from the public sector —a country's own money—is particularly strong in South Africa.
The president of South Africa, Zuma, at an international conference on green economy in May called for a transition to a green economy and he's putting his money where his mouth is. In the stimulus packing set up for economic recovery in South Africa, of $7.5 billion, they directed $1 billion for green investments, in clean energy, energy efficient buildings, and wastewater treatment.
Dr. Stone talked more about the situation in Kenya.
As a matter of national policy, they've decided to pay a little bit more for renewable energy to stimulate investment in renewable energy. And so what you see is a response in terms of investment, more investment in solar energy, in wind energy. And Kenya just has tremendous potential in both of those, actually to the point of being self-sufficient, with sufficient investment.
He said that leaders in Africa acknowledge climate change as being real, and are also mindful in their policy decisions of not contributing further to atmospheric carbon and the acceleration of global warming. Global warming is predicted to hit the African continent especially hard, in part because there are not tremendous (financial) resources available to combat the effects.
Steven Stone is the chief of the United Nation Environment Program or UNEP's Geneva-based Economics and Trade Branch. Dr. Stone holds a PhD in Resource Economics from Cornell University and has more than 15 years of professional experience in environmental and natural resource management. Prior to his position with UNEP, Dr. Stone worked for the Inter-American Development Bank in Ecuador as a Senior Environmental Specialist, and in Honduras as IADBs Country Representative. Dr. Stone has also worked in Jamaica and Brazil on large scale capacity building, technical assistance and investment projects in areas related to natural resources management.